More councils are going to introduce permits for utility companies before they can start digging up the road.

The idea is to improve co-ordination between utility companies, so they might actually do work at the same time – a radical idea. Four local councils in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex will join the existing participants in Kent, Northamptonshire, London, St Helens and Yorkshire.

The scheme, will give four councils more powers to co-ordinate road works and take tough action against companies who break the rules - including issuing fines of up to £5,000. The scheme requires anyone carrying out road works to apply for a permit in advance and allows councils to set conditions on timing, co-ordination and the amount of road space left available to road users.

Companies who work without a permit or break the conditions will be fined.

Transport Minister Norman Baker said: "We are determined to tackle problem road works and make sure that those who dig up the road are made accountable when disruption occurs."

These councils will monitor their schemes to make sure they are producing benefits for local residents and feeding this information back to the Department for Transport.

It sounds good, but it will take a lot to change the culture of utility companies. Near our office in London, a major road, was partly closed for five months while it was resurfaced and new pavements were put in. We had a sweepstake in the office as to how long the pristine new surface would last before the first hole was dug. The winner? The guy with three weeks.